Big East Tournament: Louisville 69, Villanova 55
NEW YORK ó Rick Pitino was speechless for the first time all year.
The smooth-talking Louisville coach stood in the locker room at halftime Friday night and was beginning to wonder where his team had gone, the one that had won eight straight games and had so emphatically captured the regular-season Big East title.
“I don’t recognize any of you. I don’t know who you are,” Pitino told his guys. “That’s not Earl Clark, that’s not Terrence Williams, that’s not Jerry Smith. I don’t know who you guys are. Everything we’ve done to become a good basketball team you totally changed in a 20-minute half.”
The fifth-ranked Cardinals ramped up the pressure in the second half, putting together two big runs to beat No. 10 Villanova 69-55 in the Big East tournament semifinals.
They’ll play for their first conference tournament title since 2005, when the school was still a member of Conference USA.
“I think our guys recognized what they were doing wrong,” Pitino said. “The good thing about these guys is when you say something, when they know you’re right, they step up and admit what they were doing is wrong ó and they stepped up and played great team basketball.”
Clark finished with 17 points and Smith added 16 for Louisville (27-5), which snapped out of a funk from beyond the arc by hitting 13 3-pointers in winning its ninth straight game.
The Cardinals wound up shooting 51.5 percent from the field in the second half, and hit eight of 13 3-pointers over the final 20 minutes. That after they were just 3-of-19 from beyond the arc against Providence in the tournament quarterfinals.
“In the past couple years, together with this group, we haven’t had a lot of success in the Garden,” Smith said. “For us to get to the championship of the Big East tournament, that’s saying a lot for us and what we’ve overcome.”
Meanwhile, it was just another disappointing tournament for Villanova (26-7), which still hasn’t won consecutive games here since 2004 and hasn’t reach the tournament championship since 1997.
Dante Cunningham and Corey Fisher scored 14 each to lead the Wildcats, but they couldn’t solve the intense full-court pressure that Pitino slapped on them coming out of halftime.
They wound up turning the ball over 23 times, and six of them were by veteran guard Scottie Reynolds, who went 1-for-6 from the field and missed all three of his 3-point attempts in finishing with just two points in 38 minutes.
“They really did a great job on him,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “They’re the best defensive team in the country. On a night like that when they’re going to put so much pressure on Scottie, our other guys have to step up, because there were opportunities for other guys. We just didn’t do it.”
In the only other meeting between the two schools this season, Williams’ driving layup with 7.4 seconds left boosted Louisville to a 61-60 win on the road.
The Rowan Blues and Jazz Society presents “Trombone Day” this Saturday at the Looking Glass Artist Collective, 405 N. Lee... read more